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Hugs and handshakes: Cameron Smith gets warm welcome back to Augusta for Masters tilt

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Heartened by a warm welcome from ex-PGA Tour peers, Cameron Smith hopes his love for Augusta National can help drag him out of a worrying form funk and inspire another serious Masters tilt.

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British Open champion Smith, the highest-ranked LIV Golf player in this week’s Masters field, was pleasantly surprised to be embraced back into the fold at Augusta National on Monday after golf’s great power struggle raised tensions in the two playing ranks.

“I spent probably an hour out on the range already this afternoon. It was good to see some familiar faces. Lots of laughs and lots of handshakes, smiles and hugs,” Smith said.

“It was really nice. I really wasn’t sure what I was going to expect walking on to the range.

“I was just kind of letting it all happen naturally. Went out on to the range and did my stuff, did my work and, yeah, it was just a really nice experience.

“I kind of wanted that, not only for myself but just for the game of golf.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on at the moment that doesn’t need to be going on, especially in the media. I think it’s definitely wound up a little bit too much.

“There’s too much rubbish going on, basically. I don’t think there’s any kind of hatred going on between the players. We are all happy where we are, and I’m just as happy for the guys winning out on the PGA Tour as I am for the LIV golfers, as well.”

While distancing himself from talk about celebrations some of the 18 LIV players teeing up this week were planning if one of them triumphed on Sunday, Smith admitted he hoped someone from the Saudi-backed rebel breakaway league would win the season’s first major.

“For sure I’d love to see one of us guys get up to the top of the leaderboard and really give it a nice shot,” said the world No.5.

“It’s just important for LIV guys to be up there because I think we need to be up there.

“There’s a lot of chatter about (how) these guys don’t play real golf; these guys don’t play real golf courses. For sure, I’ll be the first one to say, the fields aren’t as strong. I’m the first one to say that.

“But we’ve still got a lot of guys up there that can play some really serious golf, and we compete against each other hard week in and week out and we’re trying to do the same things that we did six months ago.

“Yeah, I think we just need a good, strong finish.”

A defiant Smith plans to proudly wear the LIV logo around Augusta, while also having a sponsor-free kit on standby in case he’s ordered not to by officials.

The 29-year-old maintains he has no regrets about joining the Greg Norman-led tour despite struggling to rediscover the magic touch that led him to a stellar five-title 2022 campaign.

“I’ve made my bed and I’m happy, very, very happy where I am. I’m happy to sleep in the bed I’m in basically,” he said, citing the hangover from an extra long off-season in Australia for his recent struggles.

But with four top-10s at Augusta, including a runner-up in 2020 and third last year after playing in the final group on Sunday with eventual champion Scottie Scheffler, Smith hopes Augusta National can again bring out the best in him.

“Driving down Magnolia Lane, I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s just like a love for this place. This is my happy place and I love being here,” he said.

“I feel like no matter how I’ve played here in the past, I’ve always been somewhat happy with how the week has gone.

“I’m tournament-ready. I’m confident that I can win.”

Smith spearheads a five-strong Australian challenge this year and will play a practice round on Tuesday with compatriots Min Woo Lee, amateur star Harrison Crowe, who is making his Masters debut, and 2013 champion Adam Scott.

Jason Day is the other Aussie in the field and says he’s looking forward to catching up with Smith and many of the other LIV contingent.

“A lot of those guys were my friends, and still are my friends,” Day said.

“It’s nice to see their faces again.”

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